Do you think that your ministry has contributed to a higher profile of evangelical Christians?
I think so. I notice interestingly enough that Time magazine has the cross on the cover, the 25 most impressive or influential evangelicals in America today, and I'm not one of the 25. I suspect that I probably should be included, because I speak to more Americans every Sunday on television than anybody else. I've founded the first and longest-running television church service in history, we have 2.4 billion viewers [worldwide] in a single week.
You're called the founder of the mega-church movement. What do you think makes these churches so successful?
I think they should survive because I think huge shopping centers will always survive. The concept of the mega-church-some have attributed that to me. Whatever people want to buy, they can get it in the shopping center. It's one-stop shopping. Churches should be that way. They can get a Sunday morning church service, but they can also have a ministry to singles, a ministry to young people, a ministry to music people, a ministry to people who have specialized hurts.
But I don't know the future of the mega-church. It may depend on traffic flow, it may depend on political evolution in the hierarchy of the different faiths, it may depend upon the personalities. I'm 78, and my church is still a mega-church. But what we have not seen is the death of the founding pastor of a mega-church, and how that impacts the ministry. Whether that church can survive without the personality of the founding person is something we'll have to see. I hope it can, and I believe it will. But who knows?
What do you think your legacy will be?
I don't think anybody can begin to guess. I do know that a contribution that I am making, and I'm proud of it, and that is we've created a facility in architecture here that will be a fabulous church forever and forever and forever, and if church attendance drops, membership is low, it will continue to be a fabulous place as a tourist attraction. The building and grounds are all designed to preach a message and inspire people.
I don't have any disagreements with most of the positive evangelicals, and I think I'd be considered one myself. I'm glad they have the power to make a difference politically. But I've always felt that I should stay neutral politically, and I have. Why? Because I majored in psychology, and I don't think another one of the evangelicals that you'd know by name did. And in psychology we were taught that you don't impose your ethical values on other people, not if you're going to be their pastor.
If you're going to counsel people-and that's all my ministry is, it's a counseling ministry more than anything else-people have to believe that they can trust you and that they can listen to you, that you're going to try to help them and not just politically try to convert them to your views. That's an ethical demand in professional psychology circles, and I think it applies to ministries too.
Your new book is called "Don't Throw Away Tomorrow." What do you mean when you tell people not to "throw away tomorrow?"
I mean, continue to live with hope. Many people have no hope. Often, in our earthly life, we're presented with opportunities to make very creative decisions but always are easily tempted not to grab hold of the opportunities. When an opportunity comes, it holds possibilities. And when you move away from it or don't sense it or grasp it, you're really throwing away your future, you're throwing away your tomorrow. We do it in many ways-young people do it by giving into drugs. Married people can do it when they allow tension to rupture their marriage permanently without taking counsel that could have saved them. Our life is all waiting for us tomorrow, and we have the opportunity to grasp it and reach for it and live with hope.
What do you say to elderly people who may feel that they have little to look forward to?
I'd say that it's understandable that they would feel that way, but it's a very dangerous process they're going through. They have to take positive action, or they'll end up in depression, which is so common among older people. What can they do? They've got to have a purpose to live for. This may be in the form of a ministry where they have a list of names of people that they will call. They will have an expanding telephone arrangement with persons who need to have somebody call them and encourage them. That's a great possibility.